In Smashmouth, Washington Post political reporter Dana Milbank offers an amusing chronicle of the 2000 presidential race. His book is much closer in spirit to Trail Fever by Michael Lewis (a hilarious report from the 1996 campaign) than it is to one of the Making of the President books by T.H. White (which provided definite accounts of the 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 races), which means it is often incredibly fun to read even if it isn't the defining book of the election and its meaning. Instead, Milbank focuses most of his effort on making fun of the candidates, expertly peeling off the layers of propaganda that mark any political spectacle. Here's his description of how Al Gore visits a Dairy Queen in Iowa:
You direct your 29-vehicle motorcade--two armored limousines, six vans, seven sedans, a dozen motorcycles, an ambulance, and a helicopter--to take you to the Dairy Queen. All 85 members of your entourage, including a bomb-sniffing dog and the man who carries the codes to launch nuclear missiles, descend on the ice cream shop. Police stop traffic, and security agents scurry about, speaking into microphones in their sleeves. As four photographers vie for position, you stroll to the counter to order your Chocolate Rock. Then you sit down to eat the confection and pretend not to notice that everybody in the place is staring at you.Milbank, formerly a writer for The New Republic, occasionally flashes his biases (the GOP, he writes, is "a party often hijacked by harsh and selfish ideology"). For the most part, however, he lambastes the whole presidential selection process. He is often a participant in what he covers, as he doggedly tries to get an interview with Bush, sends a postcard to John McCain, and helps conduct a presidential poll. This allows him to make important observations that another approach might never uncover. Did you know, for instance, that it takes "6,000 calls to get 400 complete responses" for a daily tracking poll? Milbank focuses on the events leading up to the 2000 election, even though it's what happened afterward--Gore's challenge of the vote in Florida--that is most interesting and significant. Smashmouth nevertheless is great fun for readers who like a dose of laughter with their politics. --John J. Miller
To its credit, this hilarious and wise behind-the-scenes look at the just-concluded U.S. presidential campaign shows that reporters don't have to take themselves too seriously to educate. Covering everything from practical jokes (most of which involve food) to the candidates' personal idiosyncrasies (such as Senator John McCain's curious assortment of lucky charms, including an imaginary reptile named Spring Hill Lizard), Milbank, staff writer at the Washington Post, takes an irreverent tour through the past two years on the road with the candidates. Of course the two major candidates--Al Gore and George W. Bush--are most central to the narrative, but the book doesn't exclude the campaign's now-forgotten candidates. He describes his and others' reactions to an early speech by Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley at Notre Dame: "I am growing sleepy. Sleepy. Fortunately, Father Hesburgh [the university's president emeritus] snores again, breaking the spell." Milbank also writes about such short-lived candidates as Bob Smith and Orrin Hatch, who quipped at one campaign event, "I'm starting to get the word out. My wife said just this morning, `I hear you're running for president.'" For all its humor, the book also manages to drive home some serious points, such as the value of tough campaigning--though, he notes, "There's a huge difference between purposeful comparisons and frivolous attacks"--to which the title refers. The difficulty of running a successful campaign comes through clearly. Early on, Milbank presciently wrote about Vice President Gore: "He's running a campaign as a centrist, and there just aren't many raging moderates out there."
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.See all Editorial Reviews
I really liked reading this book but as I put it down for the last time I realized that there was really nothing in it that changed my life for the better or the worse. Read morePublished on August 5, 2002 by Jordon Cooper
A terrific combination of entertaining, funny, and even moving narrative; thoughtful analysis; and necessary irreverence. Highly recommended.Published on June 15, 2001
I was hugely disapointed by this book. The 2000 election was one of the most fascinating ever. I was looking forward to reading a great behind the scenes look at the whole... Read morePublished on May 6, 2001
Well, look at us, the American constituents. What a bunch of knuckleheads we turned out to be, allowing ourselves to blindly chase after and faun for some of the biggest moronic... Read morePublished on January 26, 2001 by Misha